Enormous Robber Crab Stole $4,000 Thermal Imaging Camera, Scientist on Christmas Island Says

A scientist conducting research on the Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean says a "robber crab"—the world's largest land crustacean—stole and destroyed a $4,000 thermal imaging camera.

Annabel Dorrestein, a Ph.D. candidate from Western Sydney University, has been studying flying foxes (otherwise known as fruit bats) on the island—which is located around 960 miles northwest of the closest point on the Australian mainland. However, the scientist's research has often been interrupted by robber crabs living up to their name and trying to steal her equipment.

"They have been bothering me ever since I started my Ph.D.," Dorrestein told ABC News. "Dragging away cameras... I just see them and I run after them and they let go and I retrieve my equipment. But not this particular time."

One night, Dorrestein had set up the thermal imaging camera on a tripod to record footage of flying foxes in a mango tree. However, when she returned, the camera was nowhere to be seen.

"The tripod that it was mounted to was knocked over, we saw claw marks on the tripod where the thermal camera was attached to the cord that ran from the thermal camera to the battery—[it] was mangled or claw marks on the battery," Dorrestein said.

"So basically, a big robber crab ripped the thermal camera off the spotting scope and mangled the cables so it came loose and just dragged it into the forest. [We were] looking for hours and hours in every nook and cranny and we found lots of big robber crabs hiding everywhere, but none of them have had my thermal camera," she said.

Rob Muller, chief ranger from Christmas Island's National Park—which occupies the majority of the territory—said the crabs are well known for their curious nature and habit of running off with man-made objects.

"They are very inquisitive and they have an exceptionally good sense of smell, so that takes them into all sorts of places that arouse their curiosity," Muller told ABC. "And if they find something that arouses their curiosity, they want to drag it away—and they are big enough to—to have a closer look at it. Shoes and things around my doorway I've had go missing and found sometimes quite a while away."

robber crab
Stock photo: A robber crab on the Aldabra atoll in the Indian Ocean. iStock

Robber crabs—also known as "coconut crabs" or their scientific name Birgus latro—are the largest terrestrial invertebrates in the world, measuring up to 40 inches from one end of the legs to the other and weighing as much 10 pounds.

Found across several islands in the southwest Pacific and Ocean and Indian Ocean, the crabs can live for up to around 80 years and are known for their ability to crack open coconuts with their massive pincers, which are capable of exerting a force of up to 3,300 newtons.

Christmas Island is also home to a spectacular mass migration of red crabs, which takes place every year. During this event, millions of these crustaceans make their way from their forest home to the island's beaches to breed.

"It's spectacular—one of the world's great animal migrations and even Sir David Attenborough lists it as one of his top 10 natural wonders on Earth," Christmas Island resident Chris Bray previously told Newsweek. "So many crabs! All so chilled out and relaxed—they never pinch you—so many of them that you can hear them walking even."